Camus on the Losses Inherent in Wealth

“What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty. A certain number of years lived without money are enough to create a whole sensibility. In this particular case, the strange feeling which the son has for his mother constitutes his whole sensibility. The latent material memory which he has of childhood (a glue that has stuck to his soul) explains why this way of feeling shows itself in the most widely differing fields.

Whoever notices this in himself feels gratitude and, consequently, a guilty conscience. If he has moved into a different class, the comparison also gives him the feeling that he has lost great wealth. For rich people, the sky is just an extra, a gift of nature. The poor, on the other hand, can see it as it really is: an infinite grace.”

Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935-1942

Wealth and poverty seem to be the heart of American politics. Indeed, the American dream itself asks us to leave one in pursuit of the other. But in recent times championing that dream has become controversial because maybe, for some people, that dream is impossible.

Thus, it becomes necessary to make sense of the situation. I can think of no better authority on wealth and poverty than Camus who grew up in a fatherless and most destitute home. What he offers us is this:

Maybe, we should not let wealth occupy every fiber of our existence. Maybe it is not as significant as we make it out to be. In fact, maybe it is only significant in the sensibility one will lose in being rich. Hard times make a person whole.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

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